The Journal’s informal survey, carried out in August and September in Hindi and English, was aimed at finding out how familiar police officers across the city were with key amendments passed by Parliament in March to reduce crimes against women and improve police accountability… More than half of the officers – whose ranks ranged from constable to inspector surveyed said they had not received any training on the new laws…
Almost six months after India strengthened its law against sex-crimes – a reaction to the gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi last year many police officers remain ignorant about the changes, according to an India Real Time survey. The informal poll, of 100 male and female police officers in Delhi, wasn’t scientific. But its findings raise questions about the level of awareness of new laws aimed at protecting women among those who are charged with enforcing them. More than half of the officers whose ranks ranged from constable to inspector surveyed said they had not received any training on the new laws. More than two-thirds were unable to provide the new legal definition of voyeurism a crime in India for the first time.
Nearly 90 per cent didn’t know what punishments police officers or other authorities could face for failing to record rape cases and other complaints of serious crimes against women. One head constable, for example, didn’t think it was possible that a police officer could be sent to jail for such a “minor” inefficiency.
“Everybody needs to know the law,” said S.N. Srivastava, Special Commissioner in the Delhi Police for training. “It is always ours endeavor to see that any amendment which has taken place is imparted to the every functionary in the shortest possible time.” Mr. Srivastava said courses were underway at police training institutes for in-service personnel, and that the changes were being covered in revised curriculum for new recruits. But he said that it will take time to reach all members of the city’s 80,000-strong police force.
The Journal’s informal survey was aimed at finding out how familiar police officers across the city were with key amendments passed by Parliament in March to reduce crimes against women and improve police accountability.
The legislation detailed new kinds of sexual offenses, such as voyeurism and stalking, and increased penalties for other types of crimes against women. It also increased punishments for public servants who don’t take the appropriate steps to investigate offences against women. The new law says failure to record a written report of certain crimes against women, including rape and attacks with acid, frequently used by men to scar women who reject their romantic overtures, can be punished with six months to two years in jail and/or a fine.
A question posed to the Delhi policemen, correct answer encircled in red. But almost 90 per cent were unable to select the correct answer. Many did not accept that this was a criminal offence that could attract jail terms set by the law. Many wrongly thought that punishment in such cases could only be meted out by a superior officer through a process of internal inquiry. In all, 70 of 100 selected an incorrect answer. Of these, 16 said the correct answer was suspension, although this was not among the choices offered and this is not what the law states. Others said that punishment for failing to record information about a crime against a woman could only be a fine. “‘A Fine’ should be the right answer,” said a constable, “Are you going to hang us for this?”
A few said there was no punishment at all or that the law was silent on this. Another 18 didn’t select an option, for the most part saying they didn’t know the answer. A few didn’t select an option because – they said — the police always register complaints. One investigator insisted the maximum punishment was only a year in prison, or a fine, or both. (That would have been correct under the old law.) Only 12 got the answer right, including a female head constable who initially asked “Is there punishment for this now?” but then selected the correct answer with a little prompting from a nearby colleague.
A question posed to the Delhi policemen, correct answer encircled in red.
The punishment for this offence is also six months to two years imprisonment and/or a fine. Some 17 police officers selected the correct option. Of the rest, 70 got it wrong and 13 didn’t know the answer.
A question posed to the Delhi policemen, correct answer encircled in red.
Only about a third of those surveyed answered correctly when asked to select the right definition for the new criminal offense of voyeurism. Under the law, the crime involves observing, filming or photographing a woman while she is engaged in a private act when she is in a place where she can generally have an expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom or a shop changing room.
More than half didn’t know. About 20 selected the option: “Looking at a woman on the street.” Some elaborated on this, with at least three people, including one female investigator, saying they had been told or had read that looking at a woman for more than 14 seconds was a crime. Seventeen said they did not know the answer to this question. Some of the police offered their own definitions rather than selecting from those on offer, suggesting that following a woman counted as voyeurism. While that wasn’t the right answer to the survey question, at least it showed that there is some awareness that stalking is now a criminal offence too.
‘This is above my pay grade.’
Many of the constables and head constables who took the survey said that the questionnaire should have been directed towards more senior officers. “We can’t profit from such knowledge,” said one 27-year-old constable in East Delhi, who does clerical work at his station. The constables said such information wasn’t required for their daily duties of beat policing, dispersing crowds or hauling possible offenders to the station. Constables can’t register First Information Reports, as official crime complaints are known, they said. That’s a responsibility reserved for the rank of head constable and above. Like constables, head constables can’t investigate crimes. That requires officers of sub-inspector rank and above.
In North Delhi, a 26-year-old male constable put it this way: “It is not our duty to take action. We only follow the instructions of the head constable and other senior officials.”About 80 per cent of city police officers are constables or head constables — and they are likely to be the first person a woman in trouble encounters. Mr. Srivastava, the police training official, said that every police officer “should have a clear understanding of each and every law.” It isn’t only constables who aren’t aware of all the changes. In the survey, the six inspectors, two of whom run police stations, also got the answers to the accountability questions wrong. Three of the six inspectors also got the voyeurism question wrong, as did nearly three-quarters of the junior inspectors.
The survey was administered in both English and Hindi in August and September and covered police on the street as well as at 14 police stations across five of the city’s 11 police districts. The respondents included 59 constables, 16 head constables, 19 junior inspectors and six inspectors. They participated in the survey on the condition that their names not be used, as police officers require authorization from senior officials to be interviewed. The Journal asked two questions relating to general awareness and training on the new law, and three multiple-choice questions on specific provisions of the law.